Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Overt patriotism has never been my strong suit. Maybe I wasn’t born with the dominant patriot gene. I’m not quick to pledge allegiance to the flag or place hand on heart and belt out the national anthem with big crowds. Demonstrative patriotism has been hijacked by Hannity, Colter, Beck, Limbaugh and the far right.

For them the stars and stripes form a cloak of indivisibility – a shield against ideological and ethnic diversity. They wave the flag and claim adherence to America’s founding principles, but flinch at freedom of worship, equality under the law, and minority rights. Many confuse the Constitution with the Ten Commandments, and assume they are issued with the same divine authority.

This kind of allegiance is divisive; it funnels loyalty into a singular institution or narrow cause. There are other allegiances to consider – religious, cultural, familial and personal – each of which shapes the individual. The one allegiance we can all share, and the one to which I pledge myself, is an allegiance to nature, which underwrites all else.

When Sarah Palin blamed “enviros” for the gulf oil spill, she failed to grasp the notion of the commons. Environmental objections to drilling the north coast of Alaska, she charged, forced drill-baby-drillers to punch into the juggler of Deep Horizon. The resulting spill was the fault of enviros, she said, not BP, Halliburton or federal regulators. The commons suffered and Palin blamed its protectors.

For most Americans, no matter their political leanings, the Deep Horizon debacle has produced a soul-ache. More Americans than ever feel it because, like it or not, we’re all connected by spirit to the whole of life. This deepest personal allegiance is in our genes.

The strongest spirit link I’ve ever felt was when my son was born nearly 18 years ago. Before then, I had thought that having a kid would have no impact on my personal life. Wrongo! When my son was born, I was irrevocably connected to him through a psychic umbilical cord. Life protects life by connecting parent and progeny through spirit. It’s nature’s way.

Spirit is the ethereal other, the intangible yet unifying element that makes us human. Taking the cosmic view, all of existence is connected by spirit, which links the continuum of the life force – past, present and future. In the macro, spirit represents the sum of all time and space, all that ever was and ever will be.

The more one connects with spirit, the greater one’s spirit grows. Man’s ultimate evolutionary goal may culminate with total inclusivity, a divine expression of unification. The flip side is the exclusion of all things other than self, a restricted stage of development that rules the human world today.

Buddhists relate to universal connections. John Muir wrote that everything is hitched to everything else. Aldo Leopold described community from the soil on up. Thoreau, who preached solitude, said, “Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?” It is only our perceptions that limit our belonging to the universal whole.

Getting back to Earth … Earlier this summer, kayaking a quiet section of the Roaring Fork River, I listened to the birds. Once my ears tuned into the songs of these winged, transmogrified dinosaurs, I discovered a beautiful vocabulary sung in the high registers with operatic verve. Birds sing out their beauty in a perennial reaffirmation of life. They celebrate the fount of nature in a blissful moment of equilibrium.

Why not pledge one’s allegiance to this world rather than to sects, cultures, states and races? Why not pledge loyalty to conserving the natural world, which is our oldest and deepest connection? Why create artificial divisions when natural unity is consolidating, affirming and available?

Nature takes us out of our manmade realm into something grander, eloquent without words, intimately universal. Nature intensifies our relationship with all of life. If there is a pledge of allegiance to life itself, it is rarely spoken in concert with others and never said in halls charged with political discourse. You won’t hear it on talk radio.

It is to all of life that I offer my allegiance, and I do so with the still, small voice that emanates through me from nature in an eternal and harmonious chord.

Paul Andersen is just one of Mother Nature’s sons. His column appears on Mondays.


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